Dealing with a mental illness is like climbing the rungs of a ladder. You look up at the ladder, thinking there’s no end to it. In the early stages of diagnosis, you are in despair and think how difficult it is to get on that first rung of recovery. But it can be done, no one says it’s easy, and there will be times when you slip back down, but hopefully it’s temporarily.
Like Sir Edmund Hilary climbing Everest, every expedition can be done, and every ladder and mountain climbed. There are several steps to be undertaken of course, like first of all seeking that help to get onto that first rung. The help of doctors, family, friends, mental health services, the overcoming of that denial that “I’m fine – there’s nothing wrong with me – I’ll get over it”. Also, you have to convince others that there’s something wrong. You will hear the familiar refrain of “Get over it- there’s nothing wrong with you – pull yourself together”, as though mental illness is a made up thing to get sick notes or to get off work. You cannot turn mental illness on and off like a light switch. It’s your body’s way of saying “I’ve had enough – time to start shutting down”.
That first rung seems inordinately big, but with the right help, you can clamber onto the next one – tackling some of the problems that have led to the illness in the first place. When I was first diagnosed with clinical depression, I had six or seven major issues going on. I couldn’t cope. The first piece of advice was given to me by my sister, who said “Tackle one thing at a time – then move on to the next”. A priceless piece of advice. If you try and tackle too many things, your head will just about come off with the strain. Little steps and enlisting support from your social networks are key to any improvement.
There will be setbacks as I’ve already mentioned. There will be people, circumstances, your own state of mind and health that will dictate how far you fall, but you’ve already conquered that first rung, and once that second rung has been accomplished, it’s time to return to activities that you previously enjoyed. Try and get into a social group, talk about your experiences, volunteer, anything you like, just so long as the mind is distracted. Again, not an easy task, and there will be periods where you do not feel like doing anything. At times like this, remember the ladder and go just one step at a time. Believe me, it has enhanced my life to a level where I’m doing something like this!
Getting your experiences down does make a difference, whether on paper, or online. Your mind is concentrating, your experiences coming through; some painful, some joyous, and then you can share these with others.
Finally, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has helped me enormously too. One-on-one sessions with a trained professional counsellor, where he/she challenges your patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking. This has turned my life around, if not exactly into a vein of rich gold, into something more enjoyable. Yes, I do have my down days, and have experienced them recently too but I constantly remind myself about the ladder. It is big, and sometimes there appears to be no safety net sight. It’s a long way down, but equally it’s a long way up with a great sense of achievement.
Writer: Ian Fullbrook
Ian lives in London, England. You can find him on twitter @
Artist: Ronnie Schwartz
Ronnie lives in Vancouver, BC. He specializes in “abstract architecture” paintings. You can find more of his work here.